Student Achievement

Baltimore Private, Public Schools Collaborate for Summer

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 08, 2006 4 min read
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The opportunity to swim, dissect sheep organs and crayfish in science class, and read interesting books is a big draw for Baltimore students attending an academic summer school program jointly run by private and public schools.

Science teacher Jodie Kavanaugh works with Baltimore middle-grade students Jakeena Boone, left, and Ashley Fonce as they dissect crayfish during a summer science class at the Friends School of Baltimore.

The 2-year-old Middle Grades Partnership served 400 public school children this summer, up from 150 last summer, and is run by teachers and administrators from both independent private schools and public schools. Ten Baltimore foundations pick up the $2,000-per-student tab. The private schools provide the classroom space.

The program targets students going into the 7th, 8th, and 9th grades who are either high achievers or doing OK in school but are still at risk of not going to college.

“We’re trying to find the kids who have the potential for soaring, but either aren’t or are in danger of not,” said Beth Drummond Casey, the partnership’s director, who taught in private Baltimore schools for 23 years.

She noted that most of the city’s summer school programs focus on students who are lagging well behind their peers. “How about the kid with the 78 to 81 percent average who could be a 96?” Ms. Casey said. “That’s the child we’re trying to reach.”

The effort has another distinguishing trait.

“What makes this program in Baltimore unique is that it partners individual public schools with individual private schools, and the partnerships are multiyear,” said Myra A. McGovern, the director of public information for the National Association of Independent Schools, based in Washington. She also said that it is unusual because public and private school teachers are working together to deliver instruction; it’s much more common for a public-private partnership to use one group or the other, she said.

‘Hands-On Stuff’

As one of eight private schools and a private university participating in the Middle Grades Partnership, the Friends School of Baltimore, the city’s oldest private school, was matched with Hampstead Hill Academy and the KIPP Ujima Village Academy, which are both Baltimore public schools. The KIPP school also is part of the national network of charter schools called the Knowledge Is Power Program.

Middle Grades Partnership student Azia Wells reads in the stairwell of the Friends School of Baltimore.

Altogether, eight Baltimore public schools participated in the collaborative summer school this year.

From the last week of June through the end of July, 52 public school students took classes in reading, writing, mathematics, and science at the Friends School.

In Jodie Kavanaugh’s science class recently, 13 rising 7th graders used color pencils to differentiate the various parts of an earthworm, crayfish, or sheep’s brain that they were set to dissect in small groups the following day.

Some students said they were never given the chance to dissect anything at their regular schools, and such an opportunity provided at least one good reason to go to summer school.

“We do a lot more hands-on stuff,” 12-year-old Rachael Finney said about the summer school program. “At our regular school, we read out of the textbooks. We don’t dissect anything.”

Ms. Kavanaugh, a science teacher at the ConneXions Community Leadership Academy, a public school in Baltimore, said that in a decade of teaching middle school science in public schools, she’d never had a budget to cover the costs of dissections.

Several students said they also like the summer school because they get to use the swimming pool at the Friends School each day. Their home schools don’t have such facilities, they said.

After Ms. Kavanaugh’s class, the students headed to reading, where their teacher, Betsy Oakes, soon turned them out to the hallways or outdoors to practice reading aloud with tutors, some of whom are paid and others of whom are Friends students volunteering to earn community-service credit. During the regular school year, Ms. Oakes is a substitute teacher for the Friends School.

Learning Goals

The partnership prescribes three learning goals for the summer school program: Students should be prepared to take Algebra 1 in 8th grade, write a five-paragraph essay, and read independently. Other than that, the teachers at each site plan the curriculum. Each summer school lasts for four or five weeks. The students don’t get grades.

Ashley Armstead, a college student working at the school, helps Darius Beckford, left, and Andrew Harvey dissect a sheep brain.

The most concrete result of the program’s effectiveness is that an increased number of students from public schools who took part in last summer’s program were accepted by Baltimore’s elite magnet public high schools, according to Ms. Casey. Those high schools include City College, Dunbar High, Polytechnic Institute, and Western High.

Nine of the 10 students from Garrison Middle School who were going into 8th grade and attended the summer school at Roland Park Country School last summer were selected by such schools, while in previous years just two or three 8th graders were admitted, Ms. Casey said. Also, 13 of the 15 rising 8th graders from the public Stadium School who attended summer school at Park School were admitted to selective high schools, while previously the Stadium School had never sent more than seven 8th graders to such schools in a single year.

Thomas E. Wilcox, the president of the Baltimore Community Foundation, said the public-partnership here is modeled in part after a partnership that Concord Academy, a private independent school in Concord, Mass., formed with five local public schools more than a decade ago while he was headmaster there.

Baltimore’s foundations have already raised $2.9 million for the program, which also pays for follow-up activities after school and on Saturdays at the participating students’ public schools during the regular school year. The Baltimore Community Foundation and the Morton K. and Jane Blaustein Foundation have led the effort and have committed to sustain it through at least two more summers.

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A version of this article appeared in the August 09, 2006 edition of Education Week as Baltimore Private, Public Schools Collaborate for Summer

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